KANSAS CITY - Mike Jones is ready to win.
Not just a couple games. He wants a winning season for the Lincoln Blue Tigers.
That's saying something considering Lincoln has put together back-to-back 1-10 seasons in Jones' first two years at the helm. In fact, Lincoln hasn't recorded a winning season since 1972, when the Blue Tigers went 9-1 in legendary coach Dwight T. Reed's final season.
But a winning season is exactly what Jones had in mind Monday at the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association media day.
"Our bottom line is to have a winning football season," Jones said. "That's what everyone in this organization wants. We've been down for so long. Some of these guys have only won two games in two years, guys before that won three or four games in four or five years. They don't want to go out with that taste in their mouth. They want to have a winning season. That's what our goal is."
That's quite a leap from a year ago at this time, when Jones' focus leaned more toward internal improvement than it did results. So why the change?
"We have a lot of guys back, and then on top of that, we have a lot of guys back that have been in the system for awhile," Jones said. "Between Mo Henderson, Jacob Morris, Mo Woodard, Kendrick Causey, Treston Pulley, all these different guys have been in the system for three years now. They understand what we expect, but they're tired of losing too. They want to turn this program around, and they want to turn it around as much as I do."
It's true, Lincoln does return a lot. Seventeen starters in fact. But does having a bevy of returners coupled with an additional offseason of work equal drastic improvement? The MIAA coaches and media sure don't think so, as both ranked Lincoln last in the 14-team league.
"We won two games in two years. We won one league game in two years. They're going to rank us what they think we are," Jones said. "The polls speak for themselves. They don't think we're going to be very good.
"That's going to be some of our motivation, to prove some people wrong. Hopefully we can do that."
That one league win came last season, a 34-27 triumph against Nebraska-Kearney on Lincoln's Homecoming, good enough for the Blue Tigers' first MIAA victory since 1989.
That's a start.
"How do we build on it? We have to win more football games," Jones said. "We're going to be a lot more competitive than we were last year."
The starting quarterback (Morris), leading rusher (Henderson) and leading receiver (Woodard) all return to form a strong offensive nucleus, fortified by what Jones believes to be a much-improved offensive line.
"I believe so," Jones replied when asked if he thought the 2013 version to be Lincoln's best offense during his tenure. "We'll be able to score more points."
The defense is a little more of a question mark, as Lincoln loses its top two tacklers, including first-team all-conference defensive back O'Hara Fluellen.
"You can't replace Flu. He was all-everything for us," Jones said. "I'm not asking the guys to be O'Hara Fluellen. I want Brian Smith to play the best he possibly can, I want Markuice Savage to be the best football player he can be. Don't try to be something that you're not. Hopefully they can build to that."
Lincoln can begin answering questions when fall camp beings Aug. 14.
"Summertime is good. You get your chance to sit back and relax. You're into August now and you look at the NFL going and the preseason games and the Hall of Fame stuff, you're ready to get going," Jones said.
"We have to be smart. We have a lot of young guys, so we have to get them acclimated. We have to stay healthy. You can't go into the MIAA without a healthy team. You have to have everybody healthy, hitting on all cylinders, playing physical, playing fast and playing smart."
The season begins for the Blue Tigers with a Thursday night tilt on Sept. 5 at Lindenwood. The teams met in 2012's season opener at Dwight T. Reed Stadium, where Lindenwood pulled away late for a 49-28 victory.
The season less than a month away, Jones and the Blue Tigers are ready to get going. But ready to win? That's still to be seen.
"They are extremely hungry," Jones said. "They are chomping at the bit. These guys are tired of losing."